Results for 'online business ideas'

Why Your Ecommerce Store Needs a Business Plan (and How to Write One)

If your first thought when hearing the words "business plan" is "yuck", then you're not alone. For most…

feature

If your first thought when hearing the words "business plan" is "yuck", then you're not alone.

For most people, the thought of writing a business plan brings up painful memories of past homework assignments and many online store owners view them as something only "real world" businesses and Silicon Valley startups need.

And lets face it, there's all that fun marketing stuff you could be doing like taking product photos, writing blog posts and opening social media accounts.

But the truth is, the fun stuff will only be meaningful if you build your business on a strong foundation.

And that's where writing a simple business plan comes in.

Why You Need a Business Plan

Even if you don't actually need funding for your business or need to submit a business plan to anyone, there are still some compelling reasons you should consider writing one for yourself.

For example, let's say that you're just starting out. You've created an online store, you may even be making some sales. Creating a business plan at this stage could help you see the bigger picture and chart a strategic course for future growth.

Or maybe you're five years into running your business and you're starting to feel stuck and things are beginning to plateau. Creating a business plan at this stage could help you think outside of the day-to-day grind of running of your business and discover new ways to market it or new products you could be selling to boost revenue.

On the flip side, maybe your business is trending downward. Creating a business plan in this scenario could potentially help you either change the way your business works as a whole or cut your losses before you're in deeper trouble.

The point is, if you haven't written a business plan, you should take the time to do so, no matter what point in your business's lifecycle you're in.

And the best part? It's not that hard.

Let's look at how you can do it.

Components of a Good Business Plan

Remember, if you're just doing this for yourself, there's no need to go overboard and turn this into a major project that holds you back from launching and making some initial sales. Think of it as something designed to help open up some ideas for your business and shed light on some angles that maybe you haven't thought of yet.

In the future, if you actually need to submit a formal business plan to someone, you could always use this one as a starting point and spruce it up as opposed to having to start from scratch.

The key areas of a business plan include the following. Find out how defining each can help your business.

Executive Summary - While it's the last thing you will write, it's the first part of the business plan. This part summarizes the main highlights of the rest of the sections.

Company Description - This is a high level overview of your company, products or services, types of consumers, and competitive advantages. Ultimately, think of it like what you would tell someone in an elevator ride about your business if you wanted them to invest in it. Also known as an extended elevator pitch.

Market Analysis - This is your research about your industry and target market. If you haven't formally defined your target customer, this will help you do so.

Operational Plan - This covers the day to day operations of your business, from location and hours to inventory and accounting. As you go through this, you can make sure that each of the vital processes in your business are running as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

Organization & Management - This tells people about the main players in your business - who owns it, who manages it, etc. It will help you define all parties involved with the foundation of your business so everyone has a clear understanding of where they fit and who does what.

Products & Services - This is where you describe the products and services offered by your business. You should think about them from your customer's perspective. It will help you to better sell your products and services once you've defined them using this approach.

Marketing & Sales - This is where you layout how you will reach your target market, identify prospects, and sell your products and services. While composing this section, creative marketing and sales strategies might emerge.

Financial Projections - This is where you really dig in and figure out how much your business will make over the next five years. As an established business, you will include historical data and be able to make your predictions based off of that. Coming up with these numbers could be a huge motivation boost and keep you working towards a specific goal as opposed to just seeing what happens.

Funding Request - This is the part of the plan where you define your outside funding needs and exactly how you plan on using those funds as well as pay them back. Even if you're just investing your own money into your business, this can help you really focus your spending so it is all allocated and documented properly.

As you can see, creating a business plan can be a huge eye-opener for your business, no matter what stage you're at.

Business Plan Templates & Resources

Fortunately, there are a lot of great resources on the web that you can use to make the business plan writing easier. Best of all, many of them are free. Here are just a few.

If you want more samples, you can try this (really long) Google search for industry business plan filetype:pdf -template -sample -checklist -outline -format. Just replace industry with your own to find sample PDF business plans.

Business Plan Competitions

Did you know that there are actually business plan competitions annually?

The winners of these competitions get funding for their small business. And the ones that don't still get good publicity and recognition by the organizations they submit them to.

Here are a few examples of the latest business plan competitions for 2013 to give you an idea of the kinds that are out there.

You can also search for business plan competitions on Google to find ones that are specific to your region or your industry. If you do need funding and have an awesome business plan, this could be a good way to go about getting it.

Have you created a business plan for your business? What did you learn from it?


The Ultimate Guide to Business Plans

This free, step by step guide will show you exactly how to write a business plan and set yourself up for success.

Read the Ultimate Guide to Business Plans now.

The 10 Best Places Ecommerce Entrepreneurs Go To Find Product Ideas

Coming up with a great idea for a product to sell online will occasionally strike when you least…

feature

This is the second post in a series of articles that will detail the process of getting started in ecommerce. In the coming weeks we will be posting further in-depth articles on other aspects of finding and evaluating products to sell online. For the first post in this series, click here

Coming up with a great idea for a product to sell online will occasionally strike when you least expect it. Many times though, it’s something you need to be proactively on the lookout for. The internet contains a wealth of ideas and inspiration, but as a new entrepreneur, where do you begin? Aimlessly searching online will only get you so far so we have compiled a list of the best resources to give you direction and get you started.

As you go through all the resources listed in this post, it’s vital to keep two things in mind:

  1. While searching for new product ideas, make sure to look beyond the products themselves. It may sound cliche but as we learned in the last post, there is heavy competition in the most common and popular product categories. Choosing a different or unique angle can be instrumental to your success. Try not to just look at products, rather look for potential in the product category. Consider new markets, new features and new ways to use the products.
  2. Don't be afraid to look at smaller product categories and niches. Even though a niche is a smaller subset of a larger category with less potential customers, it makes up for that by way of less competitors and a more targeted audience. Less competition makes it easier to get to the top of Google, and is usually more cost effective and efficient to advertise to your customers.

In this post we will go into detail about the best places to look for product inspiration and ideas. We’ll start with some broad ideas to get your head in the right space to start your search and then get into more specific resources closer to the end of the post.

Let’s get started.

Make a List

As you go through this post and the list of resources, it’s best to capture all of your ideas on paper. Once you have all of your brainstormed ideas recorded, you will be able to return to them later and evaluate them for viability and potential.

1. Start With What You Have

Before you begin searching the depths of the internet and the ends of the earth for product and niche ideas, it’s always best to start with the ideas you already have. Maybe it’s a product or idea you have had for years. Maybe it exists in a half written business plan sitting in a folder somewhere on your computer. Even if you’ve discounted it at some point prior, it’s worth taking a fresh look at it. At one point you thought it was a great idea right?

Here are a few questions to consider when making your list:

  • What products, niches or industry you are particularly passionate about or interested in?
  • What products, niches or industries are you friends passionate about?
  • What pain points do you have in your own life?

Example: Max had a big issue with his unruly, messy hair in the morning. Short of taking a time consuming shower every morning just to be able to style his hair properly, he set out to fix the pain point with his product, Morning Head. Morning Head is a shower cap with an absorbent towel liner that you can soak with water, place on your head and rub around for a minute to get your hair ready for styling.

2. Local Community

Sometimes, you don’t need a new idea at all. Traditional brick and mortar businesses have been around much longer than their ecommerce counterparts. Paying attention to trends in brick and mortar retail and adapting them to ecommerce can be just the ticket you need to create a profitable and unique business. Look around your community and take note of what new or interesting retail concepts people are talking about. Your local newspapers can also be a great resource for this type of news and information. 

Example: Yummy Tummy Soup Company is a perfect example of someone that saw an opportunity to take a brick and mortar concept and put it online. The Yummy Tummy Soup Company sends healthy homemade soups, cakes and pastries in a thoughtful care package to someone you love, giving them the tools they need to heal whatever ails them. They cook and bake all products daily and send them coast to coast in temperature controlled containers.

3. Online Consumer Trend Publications

A great place to start your search for product ideas is to look at some top consumer product trend publications. Following trend publications is great way to begin getting a sense of the direction consumer products are going and the ideas other entrepreneurs are introducing to the market. Following these publications can also expose you to new product categories and industries that you previously didn’t know about. Following what’s trending can help you to dream up new goods, services and experiences for your online business.

There are several popular trend publications online including, but not limited to:

Trend Watching - Trend Watching is an independent trend firm that scans the globe for the most promising consumer trends and insights. Trend Watching has a team of thirty professionals in locations like London, New York, São Paulo, Singapore, Sydney and Lagos all looking for a reporting on worldwide trends.

Trend Hunter - Trend Hunter is the world's largest, most popular trend community. Fuelled by a global network of 137,000 members and 3,000,000 fans, Trend Hunter is a source of inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs and the insatiably curious.

Jeremy, the founder of Trend Hunter says, "Like many of us, I was an entrepreneur at heart, but I didn't know what idea I wanted to pursue. I chose careers that I thought would lead me to my business idea... but after years of searching, I was still hunting for inspiration. It was then that I started Trend Hunter - a place for insatiably curious people to share ideas and get inspired."

Springwise - There are millions of business ideas spanning the globe that operate in a specific way, have their own style, and market in a unique fashion. It’s not always possible to travel the world searching for these ideas to bring home though. That’s where Springwise comes in. Sources such as Springwise travel the world for you, on the search for new entrepreneurial ideas, trends, and stories. Springwise publishes a daily and a weekly newsletter, which you can subscribe to for free.

Example: A great example of someone that noticed a trend from another country and brought it home is Dan and his product, Inkkas. Inkkas are beautiful, unique shoes using authentic South American textiles. The idea came about when Dan noticed the trend for these style of shoes in Peru. Determining this was a great product that would also do well in the North American market, he brought the idea home and successful funded his Kickstarter project, raising over $77,000 in pre-orders.

4. Industry Leaders

If you know the industry or niche you would like to be in you can use various tools to discover the influencers in the industry. Following the right people on social media can help inspire new ideas via a constant stream of carefully curated content from the people in the know. It’s up to you to uncover the opportunities.

There are several online tools you can use to discover the influencers online for a particular industry or niche:

5. Product and Trend Discovery Review Sites

Product review and discovery sites can also be a fantastic source of ideas and inspiration. Sites like Uncrate (men’s products) and Outblush (women’s products) are great ways to see new curated product trends daily. What better way to get inspired than to get a daily glimpse into the new and interesting products other entrepreneurs are bringing to the market.

Here are just a few examples of popular consumer product blogs to get you started:

Don’t just look at the big and popular sites but explore niche reviews sites as well. Consider what types of products and niches you're particularly interested in and search for consumer product review blogs in those niches.

6. Social Curation Sites

Pinterest and other similar image curation sites can be a goldmine for product and niche ideas. Many of the images contain interesting, new and trending consumer products. Using the built in social signals you can sometimes get a sense almost immediately of their popularity. This could be your first clue if there is a market for the product or niche.

Several of the larger social curations sites are:

  • Pinterest - Pinterest is the fastest growing social network with over 50 million monthly users. Don’t forget to check out the popular section for what’s trending.
  • Polyvore - Polyvore is a new way to discover and shop for things you love. Polyvore's global community has created over 80 million collage-like “sets” that are shared across the web.
  • Fancy - Fancy describes themselves as part store, magazine and wish list. Use Fancy to find a gift for any occasion and share your favorite discoveries with all your friends.
  • Wanelo - Wanelo (Want - Need - Love) describes itself as a community for all of the worlds shopping, bringing together products and stores in a Pinterest like product posting format. You can start by checkout out trending people. 

7. B2B Wholesale Marketplaces

What better way to get product ideas than right from the source. This has been a popular option amongst ecommerce entrepreneurs for a while and this list wouldn’t be complete without it. Wholesale and manufacturer sourcing sites like Alibaba exposes you to thousands of potential products and ideas. It can be easy to get overwhelmed with the sheer amount of product available so take it slow.

Some of the more popular B2B wholesale product sites are:

  • Alibaba - You’ve likely heard of Alibaba. They are one of the biggest ecommerce companies in the world, up there with Amazon and eBay. Alibaba connects consumers all over the world with wholesalers and manufacturers from Asia. With hundreds of thousands of products, there’s not much you can’t find on Alibaba. 

Although it’s generally accepted that Alibaba is the largest online wholesale and manufacturer database, there are many other sites similar to Alibaba you can use for inspiration and to find product ideas.

Some of the largest competitors of Alibaba include:

8. Online Consumer Marketplaces

Another rich source for product ideas are online consumer marketplaces. Million of products is probably an understatement so you may want to begin your search with some of the popular and trending items and branch out into other interesting categories that catch your eye from there:

eBay - eBay is the largest online consumer auction site. 
eBay Popular - A list of some of the most popular product categories on eBay.

Amazon - Amazon is the largest internet retailer. 
Amazon Bestsellers - Amazon's most popular products based on sales. Updated hourly.
Amazon Movers and Shakers - Amazon's biggest gainers in sales rank over the past 24 hours. Updated hourly.

Kickstarter - Kickstarter is the largest crowd-funding website.
Kickstarter Discover - Browse all projects by popularity, funding, staff picks, as well as many other options.

Etsy - Etsy is a marketplace for handmade items.
Etsy Trending Items - Check out the current trending items and listings on Etsy.

AliExpress - AliExpress is a new consumer wholesale marketplace from Alibaba that allows you to order in small quantities. 
AliExpress Popular - The most popular products being bought on AliExpress.

9. Social Forum Communities

Reddit is the largest social media news aggregator. It describes itself as the front page of the internet and is enormously influential. Reddit has thousands of “subreddits” which are sub-sections or niches that cater to different topics and and areas of interest. It’s within these subreddits that you can find lots of inspiration for your next product or business idea. 

If you have an idea for a particular industry, niche or product category, it’s worth doing a search and finding a suitable subreddit community to join and actively become a part of.

There are also many product focused subreddits that are packed with ideas.

Here are a few examples:

There are also several subreddits for curated Amazon products, make sure to check out the following:

If you're active on Reddit and pay close attention, occasionally you have come across interesting posts like these:

No matter which approach you take, Reddit is has been and continues to be a valuable source of entrepreneurial ideas and inspiration, coupled with a great and supportive community.

10. Instagram

Instagram isn’t just pictures of food and dogs, it is also an interesting option for inspiring product ideas. Because it’s photo based, it makes it easy to scan through many ideas and photos quickly.

There are a few ways you can use Instagram to search for product and niche ideas:

  • Hashtag - Once again, if you have a particular interest in a product category or industry, you can try searching for applicable hashtags. Another great option is to do a search on Instagram for applicable hashtags that insinuate buyer interest and intent like #want and #buy.
  • Product Curation Accounts - There are many accounts on Instagram that post curated product content. Like many other examples above, you'll likely want to search for and find accounts within the niches you are particularly interested in. As an example, Shopify curates interesting and unique products from Shopify’s 90,000+ online stores. It might just provide the idea or spark for your next product.

Next Week's Post

Surely with all these resources, you’ll be able to come up with a great list of initial products ideas to start. In the next post in this series, we are going to look through all of the resources ourselves and share some interesting product ideas with you.

This is the second post in a series of articles that will detail the process of getting started in ecommerce. In the coming weeks we will be posting further in-depth articles on other aspects of finding and evaluating products to sell online.  


About The Author

Richard Lazazzera is a an ecommerce entrepreneur and Content Strategist at Shopify. Get more from Richard on Twitter.

How a 107-Year-Old Sneaker Company Reinvented Its Business With Omni-Channel Retail

Michael Packer, owner of Packer Shoes, knows a thing or two about sneakers. His family has been in…

feature

Michael Packer, owner of Packer Shoes, knows a thing or two about sneakers. His family has been in the business for three generations. The original Packer Shoes store was started by his grandfather and great-uncle in Yonkers, New York in 1907. 

A lot of things have changed since then, like the store's relocation to Teaneck, New Jersey, and the company's foray into ecommerce, not to mention its budding clientele from around the world. But what hasn't changed is Packer Shoe's commitment to their community which now consists of "sneaker heads" – people who are so passionate about shoes they don't mind camping out overnight to get their hands on the latest and greatest pair.

With 107 years of history behind them, Packer Shoes continues to blend the old with the new, maintaining its heritage, while embracing the modern. Their non-traditional approach to offline and online marketing has allowed the company to adapt and thrive to this day.

In this success story, I catch up with Mike to get to know more about how he runs his retail business and successfully sells both online and offline.  

1) Describe your business and products.

Packer Shoes is a family business that started back in 1907 by my grandfather and his brother, with the original store being based out of Yonkers, New York. It was your basic mom-and-pop heritage, all footwear and all ages across the board.

Sneakers were always at the very heart of the business and over time, it grew and we were fortunate enough to be one of Nike’s first accounts in the U.S., Adidas too, and then everyone else followed suit. The store that’s located in Teaneck, New Jersey now is an outgrowth of that first store, and this year will mark our 10th year at our current location.

2) You started with a physical retail store, when did you get going online?

We always were doing things online to a certain extent before, but it always felt backwards. In the beginning when we opened up something online it was basically having people emailing us about setting up all these PayPal invoices, and then we graduated to doing these mini-sites that were powered by PayPal, then trying different shopping carts before finally settling on Shopify.

We were also using another POS solution, but there was never anything that took it to the last leg of having everything under one umbrella and giving us the ability to manage all our inventory, both online and offline, in a single dashboard

3) How did you go about picking your current location in Teaneck, New Jersey? 

I’ve lived in Teaneck now for close to 20 years, it’s close to New York, in Bergen County. It’s suburban, but most of the people who are from around here, they’re shopping either locally or they’re going into New York. It’s very diverse and I don’t want to use the word “affluent,” but that's the key demographic. It’s no coincidence that the mall on Route 4, the Garden State Mall is one of the highest-grossing malls in the country. Even though it’s in New Jersey, you have mini-markets, you have every high-end shop in that strip of the highway. We’re not in a mall though, we're located in Teaneck.

When it comes to retail, generally your business depends on foot traffic. Which means you want to be centrally located. But when we opened in Teaneck, it was a real out-of-the-box idea of opening a sneaker store there, and had us questioning not only what we would do on the retail side but how we would do it. 

At the end of the day though, if you have a product that people love, they will find you, and they will travel to get to you, so that’s something that we've been really grateful for from day one. Over the last 10 years, our following has grown and we've also been able to grow our presence on the web pretty substantially, allowing us to go from being just local, to national, to international now.

4) How did you go about deciding on the retail interior for Packer Shoes? 

There's so much diversity in retail. I wouldn't be able to tell someone how to design a flower shop or something, but if you walk into our store, we still get this reaction to this day of people being like "whoa", thinking our store was out of place from where they would think a typical sneaker store like ours should be. 

I think that’s the response that you want to have as a retailer about anything, because if you’re looking to differentiate yourself in any business, giving someone that feeling right off the bat is fantastic. There really isn't a better compliment that you can get from somebody then when they walk in and they can get a feel right off the bat for what your store’s about.

Now, there’s a lot of guys who work in the sphere that we’re in that are very creative and take different approaches to what they do, especially when it comes to designing their store. Everybody sets themselves apart in a certain way. But, I think what we do best and what we try and get across in everything that we do is taking a modern approach to a heritage-based business, and that's what keeps us honest to the Packer Shoes brand. 

5) How does Packer Shoes market its brand? 

I think we’re fortunate enough that when it comes to marketing, our focus is really on the sneakers and products themselves, so it's very much about the diversity amongst the brands that we carry and that focus does a great job of getting the word out for us. Another great thing about having relationships with the brands we carry is the ability of working with them on custom projects, in addition to the stuff that we're carrying for them.

Obviously we support the brands by working with them as far as getting stuff that would be right for the market, but when you do a special project with them, there’s a sort of cadence to doing it all. And when you put it out there for the world and you use social media and whatever else as far as non-corporate-type marketing goes, which is what works for us, you can accomplish a ton. That's when you have 10- to 50,000 people hitting your site at one time, going after a finite amount of shoes, which is why a backend platform (Shopify) that can support that becomes extremely important, because then everything goes smoothly without a glitch. 

We’ve also never spent a dollar marketing ourselves or advertising ourselves in newspapers or magazines or anything like that. It has always been very non-traditional. People sometimes don’t understand it, but thankfully the product that we have, the word of mouth is very, very good for us. Especially social media. With a steady blog or Instagram feed, the feedback is just instantaneous. For example, we can literally put something up on Instagram and not two seconds later, the phone is ringing off the hook. 

6) What are some advantages of selling both offline and online and how do you manage your operations? 

The optimal thing, at least on our end, is to have everything under one roof because it’s a lot easier to manage the inventory. It's also easier to strategically allocate time and resources to both the online and physical retail stores. The last thing you want is to put up a shoe online over night and before someone can come in the next morning to get it, they're all gone.

Though it’s good that we can sell out of everything, at the end of the day, and maybe this is just a very old-school way of thinking, our customers, and our business is built on physical people walking into the store. That’s not something that we ever want to get away from.

I mean, the retail store is the face and the personality behind Packer Shoes. I can honestly say that if we were just online, we wouldn’t have the ability to do everything that we do project-wise or be able to work at the level we do with the big brands, because everything flows from our physical interaction. 

I'm not going to say we sell the same products or amounts both online and offline, because we're looking at two different wants, but what I am saying is that if we're doing a special launch of an exclusive product, there's a percentage we're saving for our retail store. Because the last thing you want is for your inventory to be wiped out and 250 people sitting outside in the rain, snow, cold, heat, or whatever, and you get to number 15 and you're all sold out. That's just not the way to do business.

What advice would you give to online merchants thinking about selling offline?

I'd say the first and most important thing is to find a location that works for you and your brand. We got lucky because we were able to find something that is sort of a timeless piece of architecture in our current store, but we’ve tweaked it over the years, but that comes naturally with the growth of the business. 

Secondly, you need to have a good team of people with you, and thankfully, I do. Guys who have been with me for years. Our current store manager for example started out shopping in the store when he was in high school just up the street. That morphed into him working part-time and now he’s been with me for seven years. Then there's the guys who work on the backend on the website and the retail store, it’s a great team that I have and the one thing I can say is if you are going from online to physical, it’s important to have everybody on the same page, all the time. If you don’t have all of that flowing together, things can get out of control quickly. 

Lastly, I think the best advice I can give for anyone getting into physical retail is simply “expect the unexpected.”


P.S. Looking to get started selling offline? Check out Shopify POS.


About The Author

Humayun Khan is the Retail Content Officer at Shopify. He writes for the Shopify Blog covering social media, retail trends and omni-channel strategy. He is also the author of The Ultimate Guide to Business Plans.  Connect with him on  Twitter.

Why Every Ecommerce Business Needs a Blog (And 9 Ideas to Get You Started)

You want traffic to your site. Blogging generates traffic for your site. Everybody understands the first part, but…

feature

You want traffic to your site. Blogging generates traffic for your site. Everybody understands the first part, but surprisingly few businesses grasp the second part.

It’s tempting to give in to the idea that the only way to generate sales is engaging in direct sales. Handling inventory, nurturing your email list, and calling to make potential customers will only go so far past a certain point. If you’re spending all your time trying to convert customers, then you’ll soon be neglecting reasons for customers to discover your business in the first place.

Blogging is a great way to build your audience and generate more traffic and sales for your business. You shouldn’t treat it as an unnecessary luxury. Even infrequent posts can help your business.

How?

Having more blog posts drives traffic to your site because it improves SEO; it lets you tell stories that convert visitors into customers; and it increases the chances of engagement, not just on social media but also on traditional media. You might increase the chances of being covered by a news site, which are usually seen as more credible sources of opinion. And besides, all that stuff you hear about content marketing? For most businesses, that means keeping a good blog.

If you need some inspiration, this post features examples of three small businesses that run excellent blogs. Stay with us as we explain how a blog helps your business, and to see the examples of stores that get it.

How Blogging Helps You Rank In Search Engines

If your audience is small, you might feel the temptation not to blog because you feel that no one will read it anyway. Don’t give in. Not blogging is one way to ensure that your small audience stays small.

Blogging, even when you’re not breaking new ground, helps your site in terms of SEO. This is especially true if you create content that people want to link to.

Why does it help? For the following reasons.

First, blogging means more pages for your site. More pages means more internal links pointing to your homepage.

Internal links are great, but links from other sites are much better. When an article of yours gets shared on social media and gets linked to on other sites, then your page rankings really improve. It's easier to generate links from interesting content than from your product pages. And the more links you can generate back to your site because of the content you create, the higher you'll climb in the search engines.

Keeping a regular blog also signals that your site is being updated. Search engines track these changes. Each new page is a sign that your site is active. Google rewards that by ranking your site more highly.

Blogging also gives you the opportunity to rank for more key phrases because it gives you a way to create content around the keywords you’re targeting. Any product page you link to in your blog post will also benefit if someone links to your post. It isn’t just the fact that someone searching for what you write about will have a better chance of coming to your site. You’ll also give yourself the opportunity to create strong internal links with rich anchor text that link to your product pages.

Want to see what how blogging can benefit SEO? Marcus Sheridan of River Pools and Spas wrote such a great piece of content that he ranked first on Google for a key phrase that's critical to his business. His blogging strategy was so effective that it got him interviewed by the New York Times as a success story. We'll let him explain the results himself: “Within about 24 hours of writing that article, it was No. 1 for every fiberglass-pool, cost-related phrase you could possibly type in. And because I have analytics, so far to this day, I’ve been able to track a minimum of $1.7 million in sales to that one article.”

Try it out yourself. Type in “fiberglass pool cost” and the River Pools and Spas post is in first place.

Sheridan built the River Pools and Spas blog with the simplest of tricks: answering the questions of his customers.

Nearly every time a customer called in to ask about his business, he wrote up a blog post about the question and the response.

For example, nobody in his industry wanted to disclose how much a pool would cost, even approximately. Sheridan told his visitors what they could be expecting given the features they want. It was complicated, but it’s exactly what people are looking for. Pretty soon the blog ranked #1 for every fiberglass pool search that’s related to their cost.

Through his blog, Sheridan has established himself as one of the best sources of information on fiberglass pools. It may be a small pond, but he’s a big fish there.

Blogs Are a Marketing Platform For Telling Your Story

The better reason to blog of course is so that you can build an audience of repeat buyers.

Tweets and Facebook updates only go so far when you’ve got something you want to say. Sometimes you need more than Pinterest to promote your products. And while video may be the best medium for telling a story, producing one is usually lots of work.

Just look at the anatomy of a blog. There’s a headline, to lead your readers to know what to expect. You have the space to tell a story. You can include lots of cool visuals. Whatever you tweet fits in a blog post; and you can post videos there too. It’s a very good medium for telling a story.

You want to be able to tell stories. Talking about your product’s great tech specs only get you so far; people respond emotionally to stories.

If you own a business and run a store, chances are you have an interesting story of your founding. Maybe your store started as a side gig that involved into something greater? Maybe you built your business after tapping into the needs of a community? Maybe you were inspired to build something after a trip abroad?

Besides featuring your story, you could be featuring your products. You are one of the worldwide experts on your products; you can describe how they’re made, where they’re from, and their special features. Bring out what’s interesting about them, and it’s more likely for your product to be sold.

So blog, and get bring more attention to your story and your products.

Take a look, for example, at the Helm Boots blog. It tells the stories of its brand, and also features lots of photos of its wonderful boots.

One cool thing about the Helm Boots blog is the willingness of the authors to write not only about the their own products, but the products of other people, like how much they enjoy wallets made by Barrett Alley.

And look at this post, created on Labor Day to celebrate Labor Day. Of course, in addition to good content, it’s a subtle reminder that their boots are all handmade.

Blogs Get You Noticed

When you’re writing good content that people want to read and share, you’ll rank more highly in search engines. Every link to your site, from social media, other blogs, and whatever else is a signal to Google that your site matters.

Face it: You can only promote your “About us” page so many times on Facebook, and it’s hard to craft more than a few tweets about each of your products. When you write blog posts, you’ll have more to tweet about, and more to share on Facebook. A blog post not only gives you more material for tweets, but also encourages other people to link to you as well. Someone who tweets your blog post almost certainly brings some visitors that you’ve never had before.

Blogging allows you to create content that demonstrates your expertise beyond unproven assertions. It also positions you as a more trusted authority relative to your competitors.

If you have a good piece of content, your post may attract attention from outside of your industry. These may include reporters and high-profile bloggers. Getting good press from media can be invaluable. Beardbrand is a company with over $120K in monthly sales; it really took off after coverage from the New York Times.

You never know who’s reading. Except of course, when you produce nothing for people to read. Then you know that that number is precisely 0.

For a final example of a blog that gets it, check out Pure Fix's blog.

The Pure Fix blog features photos of beautiful bikes in its Instagram feed, bike events around the world, and product descriptions of new bikes.

It’s also a source of advice about bike riding. You should always be trying to connect to your community and encourage engagement with your products.

Take a look at this post about the cool projects related to bikes that they’ve recently discovered on Kickstarter.

How to Come Up With Blog Post Ideas

You’re not a great writer, you say? You just can’t find the time to devote to blogging?

By this point you should realize that the latter is simply a mistake. Blogging is valuable. If you have the time to maintain multiple social media platforms, then you have the time to write a piece of content every week.

And don’t worry about not being a great writer. Your posts can be short. Think of blogging as the expansion of a tweet or a product description. Or you just want to link to interesting content you’ve found around the web. You can simply embed a video. None of these require a great deal of writing.

It doesn’t have to be something you do every day. Once a week is fine. Just make sure that you post regularly about interesting topics.

Here are a few suggestions for things that you can blog about:

  • The story of your founding: the history, the vision, and the growth
  • Your products: where it came from, how it’s made, and its special features
  • Tutorials for how to use your products
  • Announcements for a sale
  • Events you’re running or participating in
  • Advice on products, not just your own
  • Company updates
  • Developments in the industry
  • Something fun you found on the web. It could but doesn’t have to relate to your products.

Don’t feel limited. If you sell foodware, blog about your favorite recipes. If you sell funny t-shirts, link to jokes and cartoons you enjoyed this week. If you sell your own art, you can discuss your favorite paintings. These aren’t hard if you know your products really well.

Conclusion

So, blog. It helps get more customers and helps sell your products.

Consider that something you write will live on for posterity. Something you wrote last year could still be racking up hits. Though you may not have customers now, a post may get thousands of views over its lifetime. Who wouldn’t like to generate a sale based on something they did two years ago?

And what is our very favorite blog? We’ve saved from featuring it until the very end. Everyone at Shopify subscribes to it. And you can, too.


About The Author

Dan Wang is a Content Specialist at Shopify. Get more from Dan on Twitter.

Shopify’s App Wishlist

While the Shopify platform covers most of the needs of people who want to sell stuff online, it…


While the Shopify platform covers most of the needs of people who want to sell stuff online, it can't cover them all. That's why we built an API and have the concept of apps: programs that third-party developers can write -- and as an added bonus, sell -- to add features to Shopify. The API allows programs to take almost any action that a Shopify shopowner can take using his/her shop's admin panel and make use of a lot of the information that Shopify has about a shopowner's shop. You can write apps that make a shop's customers' experience more pleasant, make a shopowner's life easier or provide shopowners with information to help them make better business decisions. You can also sell your apps in Shopify's App Store, and we'll soon introduce a matchmaking service that pairs shopowners who need developers to build apps for them with developers who need shopowners to build apps for.

If you're interested in building a Shopify app -- perhaps you've got a client that you're building online stores for, or maybe you'd like to write something for the almost 15,000 Shopify stores out there -- you should check out the Shopify App Development page on our wiki as well as our API Documentation.

If you're short on ideas, wondering what kind of Shopify app to build, you're in luck! We maintain the App Wishlist, a wiki page containing ideas for apps that we've received from our customers and developer partners. We maintain it as an "ideas warehouse" for apps we'd like to see as well as a place to track their progress as they make the journey from idea to working software. Check it out -- if you have ideas for apps, add them to the page, and if you'd like to turn one of these ideas into working software, let me know!

[ This article also appears in Global Nerdy. ]

How Luxyhair.com Built a Seven-Figure Ecommerce Business With YouTube Marketing

When Alex Ikonn and his wife Mimi realized how hard it was to find good hair extensions, they…

feature

When Alex Ikonn and his wife Mimi realized how hard it was to find good hair extensions, they knew they had stumbled on a business opportunity. 

They took their problem and solved it by creating Luxy Hair - an extremely successful online store selling hair extensions for women.

And the coolest part? Their business is powered almost exclusively by tutorial-style YouTube videos.  

Their YouTube channel was created in 2010 and since then has amassed 1,474,246 subscribers and 173,657,125 total video views.

In other words, Luxy Hair is the perfect example of an audience enabled business that relies on a loyal community of fans instead of other channels like SEO and paid advertising. 

I caught up with Alex to find out how they took their site from idea to million dollar business. 

Describe your business and product(s) in 1-3 sentences.

Luxy Hair is a customer-centric hair extensions ecommerce retailer.

How much revenue are you currently generating per month?

I believe a more important measure for businesses is profitability and I can confidently say we are profitable in the seven-figures (annually).

How did you come up with the idea for your business/product(s)? What kind of market research did you undertake?

My wife Mimi and I were getting married and she was looking for hair extensions for the wedding. She wasn’t able to find what she was looking for and I was lucky enough to be in the room when she was talking to her sister Leyla about her predicament. At the time, I didn’t even know what hair extensions were.

And this was all of the market research we needed, as I knew if she wasn’t able to find a solution for her dilemma, we were going to try to solve it!

How did you create, manufacture or source your product? What were some key lessons you learned during this process?

I started sourcing the same night. I went on Alibaba and probably contacted every hair extension supplier that was there and just started asking questions about how to make it happen. I asked many stupid questions, however, that made me learn more about the product and how to actually make the idea a reality.

In choosing our supplier, ultimately it came down to the quality of product. From my initial list, I narrowed down to about 10 that I had pretty good communication with and then started ordering samples. The supplier with the best quality product and communication won our business. 

To our surprise, there was no minimum order with our supplier, however, we still had to place a pretty big order as the product itself is very expensive. Our initial order was $20,000.

A key lesson I’ve learned is the communication you have with your supplier is really important. As weird as it sounds, you have to feel a connection and trust your intuition. It’s fluffy but it worked for us and we still work with the same supplier.

How did you promote your business initially and where did your first sales come from? Any major media mentions or PR wins since then?

Our business was entirely grown through our YouTube channel, the YouTube community and word-of-mouth. We only recently started experimenting with paid marketing - up until then it was all organic.

And our initial biggest win was a YouTuber with about 15,000 subscribers reviewing our product. This did way more for us than any magazines mention can do as we’ve been featured and it’s nothing compared real people on YouTube.

Your YouTube channel has over 173M views. Why is video working so well for you and what advice do you have for other businesses looking to leverage it?

YouTube works well for us because of the way we approach the YouTube community. Our approach is to try our best to give people value and a personal connection when we create our videos. We honestly don’t focus on selling and instead focus on these two factors. The sales and word-of-mouth come as people can feel we genuinely want to help people. We don’t even use our product in most of our videos.

I can also tell you that YouTube is not for every business. It works so well for us as you can see how the product looks and how it can transform your hair to help you create different hairstyles and look great! It’s a visual product.



How do you handle shipping and fulfilment and organize the back-end of your business? Key lessons/tips for doing this successfully?

The most important thing I would recommend to anyone is to work with a third-party fulfillment warehouse from day one. It will save you a lot of headache. We used Shipwire when we had a crazy idea and no sales to growing to be one of their biggest customers.

The key lesson is shipping takes a lot of time and you want to use a service that will enable you to scale quickly and not interrupt your growth.

What software, tools and resources are crucial to your business?

Definitely, Shopify and Shipwire! These are my secret weapons and they integrate so seamlessly together.

The Shopify blog is my go to ecommerce learning resource. Sometimes, too much content that I can’t even absorb it all.

Sounds like a pitch for Shopify but I honestly love the service.

What were your biggest mistakes or wastes of time and money (if any)?

Our biggest mistake was not giving into crazy customers and my lesson was that it’s better to lose a little money than to be right.

For example, we’ve had instances when the customer didn’t follow a certain refund policy and still wanted a refund. Sometimes it’s better to play nice and not follow your refund policy as angry crazy customers can make you lose a lot more money. With social media at everyone’s disposal you have to be very careful.

What other key advice can you offer to entrepreneurs looking to start a successful ecommerce businesses?

Stop thinking about yourself and your success. No one cares.

Start thinking about others and how you can bring value into their lives and help them solve their problems.


Key Takeaways:

  • When looking for product ideas, examine your own everyday life and look for pain points that you can solve. Chances are, if it's a product or service that you need, others will need it as well.
  • Don't be afraid to learn from suppliers and ask lots of questions - even if you know nothing about a product or industry. 
  • When it comes to video and content marketing, focus on creating content that has independent value and lacks a direct sales pitch. This will help you build an audience, position you as an authority and ultimately sell your products in an under-the-radar way.
  • Keeping customers happy is important and sometimes making small customers service concessions can save you time and money down the road.
  • Provide as much value as possible through your content, products and services and you'll be much more likely to find success. 

Build-a-Business Contest Winners Announced!

After six months, and over a thousand amazing online stores started, we are proud to announce the end…

After six months, and over a thousand amazing online stores started, we are proud to announce the end of the Shopify/4 Build-a-Business Contest and of course, the winners!

The participants came up with an amazing variety of ideas, and we loved seeing the kinds of businesses that came out of it all. There was a lot of info, so we thought we’d show you how we saw the contest in the most interesting way we could think of – a Build-a-Business Infographic!

Click on the image above to download the full-res version and here to share with others:

Share |

Some 1,378 stores were opened for the contest, all completely new businesses that were started from scratch, and sold more than $3.5 MILLION on Shopify.

And here are the winners. Be sure to check out their stores by clicking below:

Congratulations to all the winners, and everyone else who participated! Hundreds of new, viable businesses were started because of this business and we couldn’t be happier. You can read more about the contest at the New York Times and on Tim Ferriss’ blog.

Here’s an excerpt from Tim’s post, which has an interview with all five winners:

DODOCASE

1) How did you decide on your product? What ideas did you consider but reject, and why?

Going back to our use first use of a Kindle, we were amazed and excited about the idea of an e-reader. At the same time we started to feel a sense of loss about not holding and reading a good book (despite what one might think, reading is at least in part a tactile thing). While we didn’t act on this feeling on the Kindle as the iPad was announced it was clear that we had to do something. Patrick considered many different types of wood materials to compliment the book element and ultimately decided on bamboo based on its eco appeal and its historic relation to paper.

2) What were some of the main tipping points (if any) or a-ha moments? How did the tipping points happen?

Since the iPad form factor was new, we had designed the DODOcase based on Apple engineering drawings. The first a-ha moment was putting the iPad in the DODOcase on launch day. We realized we had not only achieved our design objectives, but it was a way nicer experience using the iPad in a DODOcase than on its own. The second a-ha moment was when Engadget called the DODOcase ‘the Rolls Royce of iPad cases”.

The Engadget connection happened through the viral activity that surrounded DODOcase. Our target market on launch (obviously the early adopter of the iPad) is highly connected and highly social. They wanted to talk about their new toy and we become part of the conversation. These conversations spun up in the ‘echo chamber’ of Twitter and Facebook and quickly made it to the tech blogger community. Josh from Engadget reached out to us directly and we recognized he was a guy we wanted to get our product to quickly (he got case #16).

3) What were your biggest mistakes, or biggest wastes of time/money?

Fighting the urge of distractions has been a challenge for us. We pursued an iPhone 4 case design for a week before checking ourselves and deciding that while we had a cool product design execution would be a distraction from our commitment to our customers.

4) Key manufacturing and marketing lessons learned?

We’ve learned tons about book binding and woodcraft which we will certainly take forward with us. On the marketing side, we’ve learned that having a great story is as important as having a great product. As a small company, you need to connect with your customers on an emotional level as well as on the physical level of the product. We sell DODOcase’s exclusively online which means most of our customers are buying a product without ever touching it. To achieve sales in this way, its important that customers ‘want’ to buy into the story as well as the product. We’ve believe that we are in the middle of a giant cultural shift from the book to the computer (e-reader/iPad). We hope that DODOcase can help ease that transition by providing the tactile experience we’ve all grown up with applied to these amazing new devices.

Let me take a stab at ‘formulating a good story’.

For a small business like DODOcase, it is critical that our products have a story behind them. The seeds of product development for the DODOcase originated when we first held the Kindle. We were amazed by the power and convenience of the Kindle, but immediately felt a sense of loss about the traditional book. That loss was a combination of the tactile feeling of a book as well as the potential that an entire traditional industry (book binding) could ultimately be destroyed by such technology. These feelings became the core of the DODOcase product story. We set out to make a product that helped assuage these feeling as consumers embraced the iPad. Users of an iPad in the DODOcase ‘feel’ like they are reading a hardback book which created a positive association with their past feelings of reading actual books. Further, through our use of YouTube videos and other online messaging, we told the story of how DODOcase is made using traditional book binding techniques.

The combination of a product that delivered on expectations we set and the story we’ve told in our messaging has strongly resonated with customers. At the end of the day, we made a product that we wanted to use and have tried to share liberally the many reasons why we’ve made the product and manufacturing decisions we’ve made.

5) If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

If we had the opportunity to do it all over again, we might look a little more carefully at our choice of wood. Bamboo is an amazing material, but it is also very difficult to work with. Choosing a different type of wood might have made our lives easier.

6) What’s next?

We will continue to expand and invest in our production capabilities. We strive to eliminate the wait to get a DODOcase and to better service our customers. We will be expanding our product line to support additional colors and customizations for corporate clients and universities. We will look at new tablet devices as they come out and decide if the market will be large enough to support a DODOcase model.

We are thrilled to grow our business in the great city of San Francisco and contribute to the local economy.

We can’t tell you all how proud we are to have been a part of hundreds of stories like the one above. A big thank you from the entire Shopify team to all the participants!

How a Childhood Passion Evolved Into a $1K per Week Ecommerce Business

Chris Dammacco bought his first video game console, the Nintendo Entertainment System, at the age of 6. His…

feature

Chris Dammacco bought his first video game console, the Nintendo Entertainment System, at the age of 6. His grandmother gave him $100 as a birthday present and told him to go buy an NES.

From that moment on he was a gamer.

That passion has never faded. Last year Chris started Windy Gaming, a business around vintage, or retro, video games as a side-project while working full-time. Today the childhood passion and side-project has turned into a full-time ecommerce business that yields him about $1,000 per week. What’s even more amazing is that he’s managed to accomplish all this with a basic website, a modest following on social media, and a very DIY approach to product photography.

We document that journey and draw out the lessons you might apply to turn your own passions into a successful (and profitable) full-time business.

Step 1: Tap Into Your Community

If you were a kid in the ‘80s, then these games probably bring back some after-school memories: Duck Hunt, Zelda, Contra, Super Mario Bros., StarTropics, and Donkey Kong.

Some people grew up and never lost touch with those memories.

Chris started Windy Gaming in October of 2012 while he worked full-time as a cheesebroker in Chicago. A friend shipped him a big box of video games from Japan, and he wanted to sell them online.

He tapped into retro video gaming forums online, where he was already an active participant and where potential customers were congregating. He posted about the video games he had, and people immediately started to buy them via PayPal. This happened a few more times before he realized there was enough demand to set up a Facebook page to better handle orders.

 

When orders continued to pile up, he knew that he needed to upgrade to an actual ecommerce website.

In only three months Chris reached self-sufficiency and no longer needed to keep putting in money to invest in the company. And soon afterwards, he found himself being able to pay his monthly bills with this revenue.

Here’s the lesson: If you participate actively on an online discussion board around a dedicated topic, it becomes easier to identify product opportunities based around what people need and what people lack.

Plus, adding value to the community will help you build goodwill and relationships that will come in handy when it comes time to make your first sale.

Here’s some places to help you discover where your community hangs out online:

Reddit

Reddit is the largest social media news aggregator and online community site on the internet. It describes itself as the front page of the internet and has millions of active users. Reddit has thousands of “subreddits” which are sub-sections of the site about various topics and and areas of interest.

Simply type your keyword(s) into the search area and Reddit will return a list of sub-reddits related to your niche. Chances are you’ll find an engaged community waiting for you there.

You also start to find product opportunities based on the questions and pain points they identify.

Alltop

Alltop is a news aggregator that offers a curated list of the top blogs from various categories across the web.

You can search Alltop for a list blogs related to your niche that you can use to engage with people in your community by being active in comments or even guest posting.

Finally, there are thousands of independent forums online with people discussing every topic imaginable.

To find forums related to your passion, simply search for “[keyword] + forum” and you should find a number of good places to start interacting with your target audience.

Step 2: Listen to Your Community and Improve Your Offering

It’s not just that Chris has found a deep fanbase for his products. He listens to them actively and is always figuring out new ways to adapt and please them. And that makes for good business, too.

For example, he observed that most game sellers were charging too much, delivering too little customer service, and weren’t always true fans themselves. He felt that a lot of the sellers were there to make a profit and rip up off fans. He wanted his customers to know that he's one of them.

Chris has tried hard to treat his customers very, very well. That means not being condescending when they talk about their interests and not plumbing for a sale at every opportunity he gets. He also regularly prices his games about 10% to 15% less than what you might find on eBay.

Listening to his customers and engaging with them regularly are useful not only because the people who want retro games will be more likely to buy from him, but it also means that he has a finger on the pulse of the community, which gives him a better sense of what’s in demand.

“It’s because I’m on the forums that I know that some of the early shooter games are popular now,” says Chris. “Games like Gradius and R-Type that are really big now.”

His reward? A dedicated fanbase which trusts him as a knowledgeable dealer and knows that he’ll give them what they’re looking for.

Here’s the lesson: It’s not enough to find the deep community around the product you’re selling. When you engage actively, you get instant feedback which helps you improve your product offering and your business.

Step 3: Be Creative With Product Ideas and Finding Suppliers

Chris has had to get most of his merchandise from Japan simply because that’s where most retro video games come from.

But there are a lot of cool product opportunities overseas. Far too many people stick to selling things they can source locally instead of exploring more broadly for product ideas.

Don’t be afraid to test out new markets and new ideas. There are still many underexplored areas. One of these areas include bringing over goods from overseas.

Chris started Windy Gaming by giving a few hundred dollars to a friend who was in Japan and asked him to send him some retro games back. He got a big box of games, as well as a broken PC Engine LT. He sold all the games, fixed up the PC Engine LT, and then sold that for $700. Once his sales picked up, he started contacting suppliers directly. At this point Chris has a sophisticated network of trusted intermediaries.

Not all of us have friends abroad who can help out like this.

There are some amazing opportunities from out of the country. Pura Vida Bracelets brings bracelets back from Costa Rica. SokoGlam imports beauty products from Korea. And inkkas sells handmade shoes from South America. Try to make international contacts, or just make keep an eye out for interesting products the next time you leave the country. And even if you won’t go abroad any time soon, there are lots of places to look for finding interesting products.

For example, take a look at Alibaba, a site that offers goods mainly from China and also from around the world. You won’t find most of these things in such quantities on Craigslist.

Here’s the lesson: Don’t be caught up by the idea that only the businesses on your doorstep are good suppliers. Very often you’ll find something better further away if only you’re willing to do the legwork. Take a look around.

Step 4: Show Customers That You Care – They Can Tell

Windy Gaming goods are imported in batches from Japan. They’re not sold individually and shipped from Japan every time someone makes an order. So Chris is able to be offer the newest imports at the lowest prices to his customers. But he doesn’t really identify price as a key business differentiator.

“Treating your customers really well means delivering a good experience,” he says.

Chris uses only fresh cardboard for his shipping boxes, and handwraps all of his merchandise in bubblewrap. With each shipment, Chris includes two business cards (the second one is for a friend), and most importantly, a handwritten thank-you note.

“The handwritten notes have paid off in spades,” says Chris. “I’ve had people show me the notes I’ve written them. “They seek me out at conventions and show me what I’ve written them.”

It’s not price, but these little touches that turn fans into dedicated customers. It’s all part of showing people that he cares. He may be selling more cheaply than the dealers on eBay and he may know better than anyone what the community is thinking at any moment, but showing his customers that he cares about them is his truest competitive advantage.

“I want to treat everybody like a human being. You should really get to know your customers and deliver stellar service. They’ll feel it and appreciate it.”

Here’s the lesson: Your customers know when they’re being treated well. There are lots of ways to show that you care, from handwritten notes to checking in with the product experience. These little touches further endear you to your community.

Step 5: Take It Offline

The marketing efforts of ecommerce businesses typically involve engaging on social media, content marketing, and spending money on social media advertising as well as on Adwords.

If you’re active with all four of these, great. But there are other opportunities beyond the usual online marketing tactics. Think of these as the beginning, not the end, of your marketing.

Chris knows that video gamers like to meet not only on forums and discussion boards, but also in person for conventions.

Chris goes to these conventions, not only because he’s a passionate gamer but also because he wants to meet his customers. This is just one more way he connects with fans and stays ahead of trends.

He uses these conventions as an opportunity for offline marketing. He’s started to give out “Windy swag”: t-shirts and and stickers with his logo. These have been enormously popular, which has come as a surprise even to him.

Chris has an unconventional PR strategy. Instead of going after print media or even niche blogs, he’s been talking to Youtube hosts who have shows about video games, many of whom don’t have huge followings. He’s been interviewed at some prominent gamer conventions, but more importantly, video bloggers are eager to offer testimonials for him, and to discuss what it’s like to get his games.

Finally, just as businesses sponsor athletes at sporting events, Chris sponsors gamers who display his logo at competitions.

Here’s the lesson: You shouldn’t stop your marketing efforts at writing content, putting out ads, and engaging on social media. Figure out where people gather in the industry and who the trendsetters are, and go after them to promote your products.

Conclusion

What happened in a year? Chris has turned a passion project into a profitable full-time business. He started by selling Japanese video games, has recently brought in American video games, and is about to roll out big video arcade machines later this year.

“Chase the dream,” advises Chris. “Don’t quit. As long as you’re passionate, you can make this work.”

Chris is no longer a cheesebroker. Instead, his childhood passion is now his day job. The business was self-sufficient in three months, and he went from making $1K a month to $1K a week. Soon he’ll be expanding his business and bringing even more great retro games to his fans.

Chase the dream, guys.

 


About The Author

Dan Wang is a Content Specialist at Shopify. Get more from Dan on Twitter.

5 Genius Content Marketing Ideas You Can Steal – Today

Sometimes the best content marketing ideas are the ones that come from using everyday websites and platforms. And…

feature

This is a guest post by Sherice Jacob from iElectrify

Sometimes the best content marketing ideas are the ones that come from using everyday websites and platforms. And the good news is that these methods can be duplicated across nearly any topic or niche.

All you have to ask are two important questions: “Who am I targeting with this marketing?” and “How can I get them interested and engaged with this content?” Even large corporations from American Express to Adobe, have gone back to basics.

Here’s what they’re doing, and what you can learn from them:

American Express Connects with Small and Medium Business Owners through OPEN Forum

OPEN Forum is American Express’ initiative to connect business owners with collaborative tools and advice. Topics include social media, branding, marketing tips, office productivity and much more. Well known marketers, including author Guy Kawasaki and Ann Handley from MarketingProfs make regular appearances and offer guidance.

Notice there’s no mention of credit cards in the mix.

The Genius Strategy

American Express can sit quietly in the background, reaping all the benefits of goodwill associated with bringing people together with mentors and business tools. The forum has also expanded to include a Tumblr page with quotes and news that matters to business owners. It has also launched its own initiatives including Connectodex, which helps entrepreneurs create more professional profiles for lead generation and networking. This article explains how OPEN Forum has grown from 425,000 page views to over 15 million in a year.

The Take-Away

If there’s a lot of discussion, unanswered questions or people coming together on your topic, why not create a forum to act as a central hub for it? Along the same lines, you could start a community newsletter that brings together the top posters, threads and comments, and actively look for guides, resources and other tools that will make things easier for your participants.

Adobe Leverages Content Curation through CMO.com

Adobe’s CMO.com curates content from all around the web – things that have been especially selected to help Chief Marketing Officers navigate the changing advertising world. Adobe selects content from over 150 top news sites and organizations, as well as creating their own.

It also doesn’t pitch its software programs or web-based solutions to the audience.

In fact, the only ads you’ll find are invitations to take important surveys, whose results can appear in joint Adobe white papers, articles, or the Adobe Digital Index.

The Genius Strategy

Adobe benefits from content marketing through CMO.com in several ways:

  • It reaches crucial decision-makers with the news they need in a way that’s easy to navigate and read.
  • It encourages content consumption without putting up roadblocks or forced registration.
  • It promotes personalized news via registration (which can be done by connecting a LinkedIn account).
  • It establishes itself as a media thought leader by providing tools and resources that make CMOs’ jobs easier. It’s a natural connection.

The Take-Away

Curating content can be time consuming, but for already-busy people, remember that you’re doing them a huge service by separating the wheat from the chaff and giving them exactly what they need to know to do their jobs better. Use resources including AllTop and Topsy to help you get a handle on trending content in your industry, and then use a curation tool like Paper.li or Trap.it to store your ideas.

In other words, become the go-to news and content source for your industry and niche. This will position you as an authority and help people discover your products.

Nightmares Fear Factory Uses Flickr to Terrify Its Viewers

Nightmares Fear Factory is a haunted house walkthrough in Niagara Falls, Canada. What separates it from the ordinary scare-fests is its mystery. Its Flickr page shows photos of guests being scared out of their wits – but by what?

Nobody knows unless they go in.

That, of course, is part of the fun. Even the FAQ on the official website is quiet about whether or not guests are grabbed, separated from their group or otherwise caused to jump out of their skin.

The Genius Strategy

Social Proof. Nightmares Fear Factory is showing pictures of people using their "product" and demonstrating that it works, and works well. 

The Take-Away

Not every business can do a suspenseful Flickr account, but you can find innovative ways to use both it and Pinterest to inspire and share ideas -- show customers using your product, finding unique “hacks” to make life easier with your product, or spotlight the people behind the offer and why they’re so passionate about it.

The Traveler IQ Challenge Game from TravelPod

So how smart is your travel IQ? Think you could pinpoint a capitol city on a map with just your mouse cursor? That’s the premise behind the Traveler IQ challenge, where you can choose a region to test your knowledge or do an Amazing-Race style speed test. With each answer, you earn points – with a specific number being needed to advance.

The Genius Strategy

This simple flash game can be addictive – and it reinforces TravelPod (which lets travellers create blogs) very well. The rules are simple enough for anyone to follow. You can also choose a badge to show off your Travel IQ or even embed the game in your own website.

In other words, TravelPod has created a piece of free 'attraction strategy' content that get people to their site and makes them want to share with their friends. 

The Take-Away

Flash games are relatively inexpensive to make -- and quiz-based games are always fun. Depending on your topic, you could test your readers with trivia, personality quizzes, or other fun content. The important thing is that their results can be shared via social networks and that they can also embed the game in their own sites - further enhancing and distributing your brand.

CoreStreet’s PIVMAN Comic Saves the Day

The PIVMAN is a handheld government ID verification system that works without the need for a network connection. That makes it incredibly valuable for first responders on the scene of disasters or other catastrophes who need to get people to safely – quickly.

Realizing this, the company created PIVMAN, a Spider-man-style super hero who uses his PIVMAN handheld to help save the day.

The Genius Strategy

According to its creator, the PIVMAN generated twice as many high-quality leads as other marketing methods. The first 500 copies of the comic were distributed within days, with 10,000 more printed to keep up with demand. Considering that the PIVMAN device retails for $24,500, it’s not an impulse buy. However, the comic explained how the device worked better than a stale, old sales presentation. As a result of this ingenuity, CoreStreet, the company that makes the product, was awarded part of a security contract with the city of Los Angeles.

Who knew a simple comic could do so much?

The Take-Away

Turn that boring, stale sales pitch into something more interesting! Everything from medicine to cereal has been sold in comic form - why not your product? Or, you could create an infographic or short video. The key is to shake up your content format and find interesting ways to show how your product works and how people can benefit from it.

What are some of the more innovative content marketing ideas you’ve seen on the web? Share them below in the comments!


About the Author: Sherice Jacob helps website owners improve conversion rates through user-friendly design, copywriting and website optimization. To learn more, visit iElectrify.com and download your free website conversion checklist and web copy tune-up.

What To Sell Online: 10 Interesting Product Ideas Trending Right Now

With thousands of products available to sell online, narrowing one down can be overwhelming. Recently, we learned eight…

feature

This is the third post in a series of articles that will detail the process of determining what to sell online and getting started in ecommerce. In the coming weeks we'll be posting further in-depth articles on other aspects of evaluating products to sell online.

With thousands of products available to sell online, narrowing down your choices to a single product can be overwhelming. In our first post in this series, we learned eight strategies for finding your first product and in our last post we discovered 10 places entrepreneurs go to find product ideas.

Since then we've gone through all of those resources ourselves and have selected 10 products – one product from each resource category that looked interesting and caught our eye. As a very quick product demand test we cross checked all of them in Google Trends. All of the 10 product ideas we selected have a strong upwards trend.

Making this list is just a starting point. In our next post in this series we're going to choose one of these products and go through a complete evaluation process to determine demand and product potential.

Let’s get started.

Disclaimer: Keep in mind, these are not suggested products to sell online, there are merely items that caught our attention and are trending upwards according to Google Trends. Before selling anything online you must first do your own due diligence to determine market demand and potential.

1. Paleo Bars

The only industry that may have more trends than nutrition, is fashion. The nutrition and health industry is always changing and there’s always opportunity for new products to cater to the latest fad or diet. One of the bigger trends in the last few years is the Paleo diet. If you don’t know, the Paleo diet is a modern nutritional plan based on the presumed diet of Paleolithic humans that lived 15,000 years ago.

Here in the Shopify office we have a handful of employees on the Paleo diet which originally sparked the idea.

Taking a look at Paleo energy bars in Google Trends, we can see a massive spike beginning at the tail end of 2010.

Check out the graph below:

Manufacturing a food product can be tricky with food laws and regulations but with a bit of searching we came across YouBars. As a protein bar manufacturer YouBar has a wide range of options for people interested in wholesale and private label protein/nutrition bars and will handle all the manufacturing and labelling required by law. 

2. Bow Ties

The fashion industry thrives on ever-evolving trends and that means ever-evolving opportunities for entrepreneurs. Men’s bow ties is one item we've seen become increasingly trendy in our community, especially in mens fashion window displays.

From Google Trends we can see that we aren’t just imagining this trend. Searches for “mens bow ties” have almost tripled over the past three years. This three-fold jump illustrates a growing trend of men who are thinking about not just bow ties, but also how they dress and look in general.

The nice thing about men's fashion products is that there's also an increasing trend of men that purchase online in general. Forrester Research notes that total U.S. online retail sales are expected to hit $370 billion by 2017. This is good news for men’s retail and ecommerce as it presents a significant business opportunity for a specific audience.

3. Pocket Squares

After checking out the trend for bow ties, we got a little excited about the men's fashion accessory market and wondered if there might be other product opportunities in men's fashion products. We turned to some fashion experts we follow on Twitter to see what products they have been recently tweeting about.

It turns out that bow ties aren’t the only mens fashion accessory enjoying a strong comeback. Pocket squares are also commanding some strong attention lately.

Checking out pocket squares in Google Trends, it looks like they are garnering even more interest than bow ties over the last several years.

Pocket squares are not only great because they're trending but they're also a product that with some hard work and practice you can make yourself. With some pocket squares fetching upwards of (and even higher than) $60 from some brands, the margins can be pretty stellar as well.

Another nice thing about accessories like pocket squares and the aforementioned bow ties is that they generally don’t have sizes and fits like pants or shirts. This makes them very easy to shop for and sell online.

4. Wood Sunglasses

Who would have thought? We originally spotted wooden sunglasses on Alibaba while browsing the popular section. A search for “wooden sunglasses” in Alibaba returns 22,603 Products from 555 Suppliers. With all these suppliers, there is likely strong demand. 

To verify our suspicions, we took to Google Trends. It appears that wood framed sunglasses are a fairly new product but have seen consistent growth almost every year since inception.

Keep in mind though, a product like sunglasses suffers from seasonality which you can clearly see reflected in the Google Trends graph below. Regardless, it’s an interesting product.

5. Wood Watches

After finding the wooden sunglasses on Alibaba, we thought about the trend in general for wooden accessories. We've seen many wood accessories before on Kickstarter so we started our search there and pretty quickly came across wooden watches.

Looking at the trends graph below, we can see that wood watches have been around for much longer than we realized. From Google Trends, it appears they came into existence at the end of 2004 and has recognized a slow but steady climb in interest up to 2012. However in the last two years we can see the growth has flattened a bit with the exception of a single large spike. Is there still opportunities for wood watches or has this product reached its plateau?

6. Leggings

We've looked at a lot of men’s products and accessories but we have also come across a women’s product that has seen some tremendous growth in interest over the last few years. 

We subscribe to and regularly read product review blogs like Uncrate and Outblush. Browsing Outblush is where we came across a few listings for women's leggings, especially ones with bold patterns.

Check out the screenshot below:

 

Except for the strong seasonality of demand for the product, the trend for leggings seems very strong, growing considerably every year.

7. E-Cigarettes

E-Cigarettes are big business. E-Cigarettes are a self-contained electronic “vaping” device. Sometimes referred to as a personal vaporizer or digital vapor device is a battery-powered device which simulates tobacco smoking.

E-Cigarettes are everywhere these days. We have seen it in the news and our community but it really jumped out to us as a potential product idea when we read the article Why Electronic Cigarettes Are About to Explode on Forbes

While E-Cigarettes are an interesting product, it’s a pretty new market and it’s just starting to get the attention of regulators. A market like this may become more difficult to enter and restrictive in the coming years.

The Google Trends graph matched our other thoughts for this trend exactly.

8. E-Liquid (Refill for E-Cigarettes)

While looking at more information on e-cigarettes we decided to head to Reddit to see what people were saying about them. To our surprise, we found a subreddit dedicated specifically to the creation of your own unique blends of the liquid refills in e-cigarettes. 

As we imagined, the growth in the trend for e-liquid matches the growth for e-cigarettes closely. Overall strong growth and what appears to be a great potential business opportunity.

9. Coconut Oil

While browsing Pinterest, Coconut Oil images kept popping up. Apparently coconut oil is a great all-in-one healthy oil that can be used for cooking, as a lip balm, moisturizer, shaving cream, deep treatment conditioner, makeup remover, body scrub, bug bites and the list goes on.

Looking at the trend graph, the upwards trend is undeniable since 2011. 

Coconut oil is an interesting product because because it appears to have a multitude of uses. Each one of these uses could be a niche opportunity to explore on it's own.

10. Matcha Powder

While browsing through our Instagram feed we came across an image someone posted of matcha powder. Matcha is finely milled powder green tea and has become increasing popular along with the tea category in general. Supermarket tea sections have exploded from carrying Red Rose and Tetley to a variety of hundreds of brands in recent years.

The trend for matcha powder has been increasing every year since 2009 and just recently, seen a massive spike in search interest.

What’s Next?

There you have it. We used our resources list to scour our thoughts, community and the internet in a strategic way to come up with 10 initial ideas that may make for interesting products to sell online. In next week's post, we're going to choose one of these products for a full evaluation to determine potential demand and viability.

What products or trends have you noticed lately? What would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments below.


About The Author

Richard Lazazzera is an ecommerce entrepreneur and Content Strategist at Shopify. Get more from Richard on Twitter.

Start your free 14 day trial!Create your store now

Create an online store in minutesTry Shopify Free